Siân Berry knows the situation in the capital.
“The cost of living is completely out of control for basically everyone”, she said on Sunday.
The Green Party’s only Camden borough councillor is campaigning to become the next London mayor and wants to empower students to help them fight the city’s rental crisis head on.
“It dampens people’s opportunities right when they need to be given a leg up,” she said. “It has a really long-term damaging effect on lots of people and it will make inequality worse.”
In a piece for the Huffington Post last Thursday, Siân explained average price of student accommodation in London has now reached £226 per week. Compared to £118 a week in Wales, the cheapest region for student rents, the situation is forcing more and more young people to decide against studying in London.
Leaving you to rent in the free market just seems really wrong to me.
Siân wants to extend a lifeline to students, by proposing a ‘student living rent’ to quantify an affordable cost of living for young people studying and living on fixed, low incomes.
“For the poorest students who have got the maximum loan and hardship grant you know what their income is, so from that you can work out what an affordable rent if you add on a reasonable amount of paid work”, she said.
“I have said we will do this in city hall and we will set a figure each year for what the living rent would be. It isn’t going to be mandatory but it will be a really useful tool for student activists to campaign for – to get accommodation at that affordable rate. I can work with universities with a solid figure in my grasp.”
She compares a living rent scheme to the London living wage, which currently stands at £9.40 in London.
“That isn’t mandatory but we have got hundreds of employers to sign up to it because it is an official figure and they can commit to meeting that requirement”, she said.
The Green mayoral candidate said she was even intending on meeting the UCL rent strikers: “They are some really great campaigns going on, like the UCL rent strike at the moment. It shows that getting together and taking action is effective.”
UCL Cut the Rent campaign is continuing in its fight against spiralling living costs. The most expensive Gower Street located residence offered up by the university costs £437.50.
Siân draws the line between annual rent raises to improve and expand accommodation and profiteering, at the expense of young people on low incomes who may be forced to sacrifice their studies to work part-time and cover costs.
“They should not be working all of the hours god sends – they should be studying. That is what will be better for the country in the first place”, Sian explained.
London Metropolitan University doesn’t have direct accommodation provision, instead contracting out to private halls. Siân said she was “very surprised” to discover that despite having a far greater number of students from lower income backgrounds, it offers no subsidised accommodation.
“They really are excluding people from outside of the capital from coming here.
“When you are only 18 years old, leaving you to rent in the free market just seems really wrong to me. They should be doing more to help.”
In the 2015 general election, as many 18-24 year olds voted Green as Conservative, so the student vote will likely prove important in the upcoming mayoral elections on May 5.
The Green Party candidate promises to make students feel more supported, more empowered and more welcome in London if she is elected to City Hall.
“A lot of my policies are about trying to help people to be more empowered and to help themselves, to give them a stronger voice and I think that is how younger people would feel.”